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Build Your Own Earthship: the Ultimate Sustainable Home!

By: Susan Hunt MA - Updated: 3 Jan 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Earthship Sustainable Home Building

Earthships are growing in popularity around the world and are said to be the ultimate in sustainability – but be warned, they don’t often look like your idea of a typical home!

Chances are, if you asked 10 friends to describe an Earthship, they couldn’t – because the concept is currently little publicised in the UK.

But the Earthship movement is growing around the world, particularly in the United States and in Third World countries.

Truly Sustainable

So what exactly is an Earthship? Designs can vary massively depending on location but the term Earthship refers to a home built from readily available recycled materials and incorporating alternative energy systems and water catchment.

The most popular material for the external structure in most areas is worn-out vehicle tyres. These are filled with earth, making a virtually indestructible type of “brick”.

Aluminium drink cans or discarded glass bottles are often used for non-load bearing internal room dividers but often these are covered with a type of “plaster” made from dirt, pebbles and sand on the site.

Earthships make so much sense – and although construction costs are currently similar to a traditional building, there are huge savings to be made over an Earthship’s lifetime in terms of free energy, water and heating.

Earthships also save the energy used in producing new building materials and the construction miles involved in transport of materials.

UK Earthships

The first Earthships in the UK were built in Fife in Scotland and in Brighton but neither are homes. The Fife building is a visitor centre and demonstration unit for sustainable methods.

The Brighton Earthship is a Low Carbon Trust project and tours are available on a regular basis. If you are interested in building your own Earthship, the trust also offers courses in self-building an Earthship.

If you want to create a truly sustainable building, then an Earthship home could be for you. It is now possible to buy architectural drawings for homes ranging from one to three bedrooms and there is a wealth of information online, including e-books, that can address any problems you might come up against.

The world’s first known Earthship was build around 40 years ago. Since then, it has undergone many refinements and ecologists describe it as the cutting edge of sustainable building.

Self Sufficient

One of the most appealing things about an Earthship is that it doesn’t depend on mains water supply and ideally, it should produce all – or most of - its own power for lighting, heating and running appliances.

Since different regions of the world have different weather and water considerations, obviously one size doesn’t fit all so Earthships are designed taking their location into account.

Often, they will be fitted with solar panels and a wind power system to provide electricity and some have multiple energy supplies.

Although water shortages tend to be an inconvenience rather than a life threatening issue in the UK, experts say that the whole planet needs to start thinking about the amount of water it wastes and the environmental consequences of piping water across huge distances.

So it obviously makes sense for us all to not only think about our water use but take steps to harvest our own water whenever possible – and then make sure it is used to its full potential.

In most homes, water is piped in from the local water authority and used only once before being thrown out, whereas Earthships are designed to catch their own water from rain and snow and use it multiple times before it goes back into the earth.

Grow Your Own Too!

Most Earthship designs include indoor growing areas so you can also save on processed and pre-packed foods – thereby saving more money and limiting the use of processing and packing materials.Several years ago, the original creator of Earthships felt that they had reached the perfect model – but then came the financial crisis which has hit the UK and the United States as well as many other countries.

He then decided it was no longer enough to offer an Earthship construction that would cost the same as a traditional home. With most people hit by the credit crunch, it needed to cost less. At the same time, research had shown that people living in Earthships could find themselves feeling isolated from “traditional” communities around them.

The plan for the future is now to look at addressing both the cost and the social issues by building a number of Earthships on a shared piece of land. This would hopefully allow owners to share some of the costs, such as installation of alternative energy and water purification.

It would also build a neighbourhood, so instead of feeling like “outcasts” from traditional society, like minded people could socialise and share their eco-experiences and tips.

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[Add a Comment]
what are the chances of local planners allowing to build an earth shop extension to an old building (former school now a community centre) we want to do more eco friendly projects and have an ambition project that we're planning on to start our our growing/gardening centre on a piece of land near our facility that's currently waste land! The real question is! Can we build a tyre for wall as a structure and would the exterior wall need to be back filled? What type of external cladding could be used? It's probably not your usual request for information but aft r watching the grand designs south of France project. I think it's highly possible to create a building/extension that we need with recyclable materials for commercial use! You thoughts and guidance would be very much appricated. Joanna
Jojo - 3-Jan-17 @ 8:55 PM
I'm trying to launch a self build project of 12 Earthships in South Wales. It's mainly aimed at homeless or in difficulty families. It'll not be a community building but 12 separate dwellings. I have Shelter on board, have a few housing associations I'm talking to about giving up land, just need an experienced architect.Any ideas? Thanks
Andrew - 22-Nov-16 @ 2:08 PM
Hoping to one day buy a plot of land and do something like this. I saw another idea of using large long bags for filling with earth as opposed to tyres. Looked good.
Goatdeath - 2-Sep-16 @ 11:22 PM
How is it for planning permission in the UK? Could it be got round by opening livestock?
Ollie - 17-Jul-16 @ 7:39 PM
denise - Your Question:
My daughter has recently moved in to a small holding in County Durham. She has found a heap of at least 70 tyres. She is reluctant to take them to the tip. Are there any earthship projects in the north east that could use them? thanks.

Our Response:
Hopefully someone will be able to help you. If you contact your local council, they'll be able to offer advice on how to dispose of them in the most environmentally friendly way.
SustainableBuild - 27-May-16 @ 9:46 AM
My daughter has recently moved in to a small holding in County Durham. She has found a heap of at least 70 tyres. She is reluctant to take them to the tip. Are there any earthship projects in the north east that could use them? thanks.
denise - 25-May-16 @ 4:35 PM
I've only seen videos of these being built in dry climates where they build directly onto the dry ground. What changes need to be made for damper climates such as our own. Is there a need for conventional foundations and or waterproof membranes? Is there a problem with packing tyres full of damper earth? Can Earthships be built into the Earth as they are sometimes in drier climates or should the remain entirely above ground
Jacob - 10-Apr-16 @ 12:58 PM
Pleaaaase send me details i must be involved in learning all therw is to know about earthships and want to build!!
kyky - 7-Jul-15 @ 11:20 AM
@Suzy. Planning departments/committees are surprisingly receptive to sustainable projects and will discuss with you the best way to get your project approved. There will undoubtedly be lots of conditions as to the appearance etc. Why not talk to your local planning officer, they'll be very helpful.
SustainableBuild - 22-May-15 @ 10:33 AM
I live in Bournemouth, which is a very conservative place, how easy does it tend to be to get planing permissionfor earthships? I need to stay close by for work, also, the cost seems to vary, what would a typical 2 bedroom cost to build? Thanks, Suzy
Suzy - 19-May-15 @ 4:36 PM
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